Seattle Is First US City To Ban Caste Discrimination

(AP) — The Seattle City Council on Tuesday added caste to the city’s anti-discrimination laws, becoming the first U.S. city to ban caste discrimination and the first in the world to pass such a law outside South Asia.

Calls to outlaw discrimination based on caste, a division of people based on birth or descent, have grown louder among South Asian diaspora communities in the United States. But the movement has been getting pushback from some Hindu Americans who argue that such legislation maligns a specific community.

Tensions within the community were visible at Seattle City Hall on Tuesday as a noisy hearing culminated with a 6-1 vote with a majority of the council agreeing that caste discrimination crosses national and religious boundaries and that without such laws, those facing caste discrimination in the U.S. will have no protections.

The packed room, which overflowed with activists from both sides bearing banners, chanting slogans, challenging speakers and city officials as they made their comments, laid bare stark divisions over this issue within the South Asian diaspora. A majority of those present in council chambers were supporters of the ordinance and those opposed were a vocal minority.

Picture : NBC

As council members voted in favor of the ordinance, the chamber erupted into cheers of “Jai Bhim,” which means “victory for Bhim” a rallying cry adopted by followers of B.R. Ambedkar, an Indian Dalit rights icon whose given name was Bhimrao. Dalit groups and their supporters say caste discrimination is prevalent in U.S. diaspora communities, manifesting itself in the form of social alienation and discrimination in housing, education and the tech sector where South Asians hold key roles.

Yogesh Mane, a Seattle resident who grew up as an untouchable in India, broke into tears as he heard the council’s decision.

“I’m emotional because this is the first time such an ordinance has been passed anywhere in the world outside of South Asia,” he said. “It’s a historic moment.”

Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of Oakland, California-based Equality Labs, whose advocacy work along with community partners continues to push caste discrimination laws forward, called the council vote “a culture war that has been won.”

Seattle first US City to ban caste discrimination

Seattle City Council on Tuesday added caste to the city’s anti-discrimination laws, becoming the first U.S. city to specifically ban caste discrimination (Feb. 22) (AP video/Manuel Valdes)

“We got the support of over 200 organizations from Seattle and around the country,” she said. “It’s a powerful message that Dalit people are not alone. The South Asian community has united to say we want to heal from the trauma of caste.”

Council Member Kshama Sawant, a socialist and the only Indian American on the City Council, said the ordinance, which she proposed, does not single out one community, but it accounts for how caste discrimination crosses national and religious boundaries. Sawant said the council received over 4,000 emails in support of the ordinance.

“We’ve heard hundreds of gut-wrenching stories over the last few weeks showing us that caste discrimination is very real in Seattle,” she said.

Council Member Sara Nelson who cast the lone dissenting vote agreed with opponents calling the ordinance “a reckless, harmful solution to a problem for which we have no data or research.”

“This could generate more anti-Hindu discrimination and could dissuade employers from hiring South Asians,” she said. “The community that is being impacted is deeply divided on this issue.”

Nelson also said the ordinance would also get the city entangled in legal battles to which Sawant responded: “Bring it on.” Sawant said being fearful of lawsuits is not the way to effect progress or change.

Council Member Lisa Herbold questioned opponents’ logic that the law singles out Hindus and people of Indian descent. “That’s like saying gender discrimination laws single out all men,” she said. “And just because we have a small population that is experiencing (caste discrimination) that doesn’t make it any less important.”

Shobha Swamy, a representative of the Coalition of Hindus of North America said she was disappointed by the council deliberations and line of questioning. The group said they received a show of support from over 100 organizations. “Due diligence wasn’t done,” said Swami, who flew in from Atlanta.

C.H. Srikrishna, a San Francisco Bay Area-based tech worker, said he is worried about the ramifications this ordinance might have for the South Asian community.

“I too want discrimination to end,” he said. “But we need to first determine that widespread discrimination exists.”

Srikrishna, who is Hindu, believes the ordinance does target his religion. “When you say it originated 2,000 years ago, that is implicitly blaming Hinduism,” he said. “That bothers me. I feel betrayed.”

Sanjay Patel, a tech company owner from the Seattle area, said he never felt discriminated against in the U.S. as a member of a lower caste and that the ordinance pained him because it reminded him of a caste identity, which he thought had become obsolete.

“I fear with this law, businesses will be afraid to hire South Asians,” he said. Earlier Tuesday morning, several activists braved cold temperatures and wind gusts to line up outside City Hall so they would get a chance to speak to the council before the vote. But the council restricted public comment at the meeting where more than 300 people had requested to speak virtually and in person. They heard about half of the comments before moving on to deliberations and the vote.

The origins of the caste system in India can be traced back 3,000 years as a social hierarchy based on one’s occupation and birth. It is a system that has evolved over the centuries under Muslim and British rule. The suffering of those who are at the bottom of the caste pyramid — known as Dalits — has continued. Caste discrimination has been prohibited in India since 1948, a year after the nation’s independence from British rule.

The U.S. is the second most popular destination for Indians living abroad, according to the Migration Policy Institute, which estimates the U.S. diaspora grew from about 206,000 in 1980 to about 2.7 million in 2021. The group South Asian Americans Leading Together reports that nearly 5.4 million South Asians live in the U.S. — up from the 3.5 million counted in the 2010 census. Most trace their roots to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Over the past three years, several colleges and university systems have moved to prohibit caste discrimination. In December 2019, Brandeis University near Boston became the first U.S. college to include caste in its nondiscrimination policy. The California State University System, Colby College, Brown University and the University of California, Davis have all adopted similar measures. Harvard University instituted caste protections for student workers in 2021 as part of its contract with its graduate student union.

India Surpasses China As The World’s Most Populous Country

India is poised to become the world’s most populous country this year – surpassing China, which has held the distinction since at least 1950, when the United Nations population records begin. The UN expects that India will overtake China in April, though it may have already reached this milestone since the UN estimates are projections.

Here are key facts about India’s population and its projected changes in the coming decades, based on Pew Research Center analyses of data from the UN and other sources.

How we did this

India’s population has grown by more than 1 billion people since 1950, the year the UN population data begins. The exact size of the country’s population is not easily known, given that India has not conducted a census since 2011, but it is estimated to have more than 1.4 billion people – greater than the entire population of Europe (744 million) or the Americas (1.04 billion). China, too, has more than 1.4 billion people, but while China’s population is declining, India’s continues to grow.

Under the UN’s “medium variant” projection, a middle-of-the-road estimate, India’s population will surpass 1.5 billion people by the end of this decade and will continue to slowly increase until 2064, when it will peak at 1.7 billion people. In the UN’s “high variant” scenario – in which the total fertility rate in India is projected to be 0.5 births per woman above that of the medium variant scenario – the country’s population would surpass 2 billion people by 2068. The UN’s “low variant” scenario – in which the total fertility rate is projected to be 0.5 births below that of the medium variant scenario – forecasts that India’s population will decline beginning in 2047 and fall to 1 billion people by 2100.

People under the age of 25 account for more than 40% of India’s population. In fact, there are so many Indians in this age group that roughly one-in-five people globally who are under the age of 25 live in India. Looking at India’s age distribution another way, the country’s median age is 28. By comparison, the median age is 38 in the United States and 39 in China.

The other two most populous countries in the world, China and the U.S., have rapidly aging populations – unlike India. Adults ages 65 and older comprise only 7% of India’s population as of this year, compared with 14% in China and 18% in the U.S., according to the UN. The share of Indians who are 65 and older is likely to remain under 20% until 2063 and will not approach 30% until 2100, under the UN’s medium variant projections.

The fertility rate in India is higher than in China and the U.S., but it has declined rapidly in recent decades. Today, the average Indian woman is expected to have 2.0 children in her lifetime, a fertility rate that is higher than China’s (1.2) or the United States’ (1.6), but much lower than India’s in 1992 (3.4) or 1950 (5.9). Every religious group in the country has seen its fertility rate fall, including the majority Hindu population and the Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain minority groups. Among Indian Muslims, for example, the total fertility rate has declined dramatically from 4.4 children per woman in 1992 to 2.4 children in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available from India’s National Family Health Survey (NFHS). Muslims still have the highest fertility rate among India’s major religious groups, but the gaps in childbearing among India’s religious groups are generally much smaller than they used to be.

Fertility rates vary widely by community type and state in India. On average, women in rural areas have 2.1 children in their lifetimes, while women in urban areas have 1.6 children, according to the 2019-21 NFHS. Both numbers are lower than they were 20 years ago, when rural and urban women had an average of 3.7 and 2.7 children, respectively.

Total fertility rates also vary greatly by state in India, from as high as 2.98 in Bihar and 2.91 in Meghalaya to as low as 1.05 in Sikkim and 1.3 in Goa.

Likewise, population growth varies across states. The populations of Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh both increased by 25% or more between 2001 and 2011, when the last Indian census was conducted. By comparison, the populations of Goa and Kerala increased by less than 10% during that span, while the population in Nagaland shrank by 0.6%. These differences may be linked to uneven economic opportunities and quality of life.

On average, Indian women in urban areas have their first child 1.5 years later than women in rural areas. Among Indian women ages 25 to 49 who live in urban areas, the median age at first birth is 22.3. Among similarly aged women in rural areas, it is 20.8, according to the 2019 NFHS.

Women with more education and more wealth also generally have children at later ages. The median age at first birth is 24.9 among Indian women with 12 or more years of schooling, compared with 19.9 among women with no schooling. Similarly, the median age at first birth is 23.2 for Indian women in the highest wealth quintile, compared with 20.3 among women in the lowest quintile.

Among India’s major religious groups, the median age of first birth is highest among Jains at 24.9 and lowest among Muslims at 20.8.

India’s artificially wide ratio of baby boys to baby girls – which arose in the 1970s from the use of prenatal diagnostic technology to facilitate sex-selective abortions – is narrowing. From a large imbalance of about 111 boys per 100 girls in India’s 2011 census, the sex ratio at birth appears to have normalized slightly over the last decade. It narrowed to about 109 boys per 100 girls in the 2015-16 NFHS and to 108 boys per 100 girls in the 2019-21 NFHS.

To put this recent decline into perspective, the average annual number of baby girls “missing” in India fell from about 480,000 in 2010 to 410,000 in 2019, according to a Pew Research Center study published in 2022. (Read more about how this “missing” population share is defined and calculated in the “How did we count ‘missing’ girls?” box of the report.) And while India’s major religious groups once varied widely in their sex ratios at birth, today there are indications that these differences are shrinking.

Infant mortality in India has decreased 70% in the past three decades but remains high by regional and international standards. There were 89 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990, a figure that fell to 27 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2020. Since 1960, when the UN Interagency Group for Child Mortality Estimation began compiling this data, the rate of infant deaths in India has dropped between 0.1% and 0.5% each year.

Still, India’s infant mortality rate is higher than those of neighboring Bangladesh (24 deaths per 1,000 live births), Nepal (24), Bhutan (23) and Sri Lanka (6) – and much higher than those of its closest peers in population size, China (6) and the U.S. (5).

Typically, more people migrate out of India each year than into it, resulting in negative net migration. India lost about 300,000 people due to migration in 2021, according to the UN Population Division. The UN’s medium variant projections suggest India will continue to experience net negative migration through at least 2100.

But India’s net migration has not always been negative. As recently as 2016, India gained an estimated 68,000 people due to migration (likely to be a result of an increase in asylum-seeking Rohingya fleeing Myanmar). India also recorded increases in net migration on several occasions in the second half of the 20th century.

Has Mount Everest Grown? Nepal Will Tell Us

Well known around the globe, Everest as the tallest mountain with 29,029 feet, from sea level to summit may not be the actual height– or at least not for long. Because the mountain is changing.  Scientists say Everest is getting taller, over time, because of plate tectonics. As the Indian plate slips under the Eurasian plate, it uplifts the Himalayas. But earthquakes can reduce their height in an instant.

After a 7.8-magnitude quake in 2015 killed thousands, including climbers on Everest, scientists suspect the mountain got shorter. So China and Nepal, on whose borders Everest stands, decided it’s time to re-measure Everest.

This spring, with the climbing season canceled for COVID-19, China sent a survey team up to Everest’s summit, carrying GPS receivers. Last year, Nepal did the same. The two countries have been analyzing their findings for months, and are expected to release them any day now – possibly as early as this weekend. Calculating that number has evolved as our technology has, but the science remains complicated.

As per reports, Nepal is going to announce the new height of Mt Everest, the world’s tallest peak, very soon. A Cabinet meeting gave nod to Nepal’s Ministry of Land Management to announce the height of Everest and according to some media reports, as the peak has appeared taller than it was but no official confirmation yet.

Minister for Land Management of Nepal, Padma Kumari Aryal said that with our own resources, we have completed the measurement of the Everest and are going to announce it very soon. Nepal had started the remeasurement of the world’s tallest peak in 2017 of its own resources as a lot of concerns were emerging about the height of Mt Everest after the 2015 earthquake.

As agreed with Chinese side, during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping last year, Nepal and China will jointly announce the height of the Everest in Kathmandu and Beijing simultaneously, according to Nepal’s Ministry of Land Management.

Although Nepal had planned and announced the remeasurement of the Everest height, believed to be altered by the 2015 earthquake, on its own, the two countries made an agreement in October last year to announce the height jointly. Following that, China measured the height of Everest from the northern side in May this year from Tibetan face.

Nepal and China have been at odds over the height of Everest after China unilaterally declared the height of Everest as 8,844.04 meter in 2015 against globally accepted 8,848 meter. Over the differences about the height of Everest, Nepal and China also could not sign the boundary protocol since then. The present height of Everest was declared after the Survey of India in 1954 and has been considered the same since then. After Nepal declared to remeasurement of the height of Everest, India had also put interest but Nepal rejected the offer saying that it will measure of its own resources.

As China came up with the rock height of Everest in 2015 against the globally accepted snow height, now according to Padma Kumari Aryal, Minister for Land Management, now Beijing has agreed to consider the snow height of Everest. (IANS)

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